Westworld: Season One 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review
You’d have to go back to the season premiere of ‘Game of Thrones’ to find a debut of an HBO show that had an equal cultural impact and was as well received as the first season of ‘Westworld’. Based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie/screenplay of the same name, ‘Westworld’ instantly captivated audiences with a unique premise and interesting characters.
“Westworld” is the name of a theme park in the future where humans can pay to enter into a world that is virtually identical to the Old West you read about in books. Except the “people” in this world are actually robotic replicants, so the guests are allowed to do absolutely anything they want. The first season follows a handful of characters. The main focus is spread out between the creator of Westworld, Dr. Ford, who is clearly more than what he seems, the Man in Black (Ed Harris), who is obsessed with finding the meaning of the game, Dolores (Wood), who is becoming more and more aware of her place in the world and William (Jimmi Simpson), who is learning more about himself while vacationing in Westworld. There are of course many other characters that are important, but the show seems to bounce between those four.
Obviously, the idea alone is fascinating and brings up all kinds of questions of humanity, morality and what constitutes the concept of being alive. These intense concepts are what make and break the entire show. In theory, any of the deeper themes could be the sole focus of an entire series, so the series creators were always going to struggle incorporating the many themes with the token shots of violence and sex that are common in any HBO dramatic series. For the most part, the creators do a fine job juggling all of the ideas and themes, but they also know what’s selling tickets, which is why it’s hard to take the show too seriously at times. The deeper exploration of themes is often sacrificed to get to something more exciting and while that makes for a fun show, it always gets in the way of the show being great.
Aside from the great premise, the biggest thing going for ‘Westworld’ is the amazing cast. We haven’t seen Anthony Hopkins nail a role like this in a long time and he sells Dr. Ford as both a victim and a quiet villain. Evan Rachel Wood does a great job as the helpless Dolores, evoking sympathy and anger from the audience. Maybe the highlight is Thandie Newton as Maeve. Maeve has the most dramatic arc as she has to constantly cope with the various situations ‘Westworld’ creates for those that are self aware. But everyone does a fantastic job and their talent carry scenes that otherwise would have fallen flat.
I do believe ‘Westworld’ was a bit overrated and once you get past the idea of figuring out who is “real” and who is not, things start to slow down. It also felt like the showrunners weren’t sure how to end things, which is going to make future seasons interesting. ‘Westworld’ has plenty of things to appreciate and admire, but I’m not ready to proclaim it one of the best shows of all time or even one of the best HBO shows of all time just yet.
4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Everyone should applaud HBO for making the jump to 4K with the first season of ‘Westworld’. However, the set might be a good warning to fans to temper their expectations when it comes to TV shows on 4K. When I first popped in the 4K disc I thought for sure I had put in the Blu-ray disc instead of the 4K, to the point I actually stopped the disc to double check. I had the right disc and it turns out the differences between the 4K and Blu-ray are minimal to say the least. It’s not that the show doesn’t look great, because it does, it’s that the 4K doesn’t add much to it. ‘Westworld’ was famous for its gorgeous cinematography and it looks great on Blu-ray. But those same desert landscapes on 4K look almost identical. That said, I don’t think ‘Westworld’ will ever look better and when you consider the Dolby Vision, those with 4K capability should consider the upgrade.
Audio: Whatever the video lacks, the audio makes up for with a very nice Dolby Atmos track on each episode.
This title was reviewed using a Samsung UBD-K8500 with a Sony XBR75X850C TV.
The 4K UHD does not contain any exclusive features, but it does include a Blu-ray of the film, which includes the following special features:
The Big Moment: Each disc contains a collection of “big moments”, which are deeper looks into key scenes (7 scenes in total). They’re about two minutes long and they’re a nice dive into the various moments that defined the show.
Disc 1 featurettes (37:41): Five featurettes in total, three of which are more like introductions to the series. You hear from the creative team as well as various cast and crew members. None of these stood out and there’s a lot of overlapping between them.
Disc 2 – Reality of AI: Westworld (4:30): Jonathan Nolan and others talk about artificial intelligence and robots.
Gag Reel (1:03)
Disc 3 – Crafting the Narrative (29:15): This is sort of a repeat of “The Big Moment” feature, but it kind of plays out like a commentary to the season finale.
The Key to the Chords (8:05): The music gets its own featurette and composer Ramin Djawadi talks about the impact it has on the show.